For a film about a screenwriter’s perseverance for creative expression, Trumbo is rarely as inspired or diligent. Based on the life of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), director Jay Roach’s biopic settles for a cordial yet straight-laced snapshot of 1950s Hollywood, unable to elevate political and libertarian motifs off the page.
After being unjustly imprisoned for his membership to the Communist Party of the USA, Trumbo was among many screenwriters blacklisted in Hollywood for suspicion of propaganda. Despite opposition from the industry’s staunch republicans, like columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Trumbo refused to concede, continuing to work pseudonymously – even earning two Academy Awards without credit.
Regarding Oscars, Cranston is nominated for a decent performance, which nails Trumbo’s gruff mannerisms but can’t quite generate enough empathy to lift the film’s emotional beats. Some responsibility lies with John McNamara’s screenplay, which manages to paint a fairly elaborate personal portrait but lacks complexity in exploring issues of freedom of speech and political hypocrisy to make its desired impact.
For a more refined depiction of the era’s communist paranoia, see Bridge of Spies. If you’d prefer a glitzy Hollywood setting, complete with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas impressions, you may find some buoyancy in Trumbo.